By Doug Hallett
The naming of Guelph’s newest school after the city’s founder, John Galt, is apt considering who will be coming to the new school, its principal says.
“It’s a suitable metaphor – starting a new community, bringing communities together and building from the ground up,” Ken Keesmaat says of the school board’s naming of John Galt Public School, built on the site of the former Laurine Avenue Public School.
When it opens today, the new school won’t just take kindergarten to Grade 6 students from the old school, who went to King George school while the new school was being built.
It will also take children from Tytler school, which was the city’s oldest school before it closed in June. It will also take Grade 7 and 8 students from Ottawa Crescent school, as well as Grade 7 and 8 students who would have gone to King George had the board not turned it into a French immersion centre, starting next year.
Keesmaat, who was Tytler’s principal for the two years before it closed, says he hasn’t had a lot of contact with Tytler parents since June.
However, “the few I have bumped into seem happy, and the kids seem excited . . . I haven’t heard any negatives,” he said in an interview as workers put the finishing touches on the new school and teachers were getting their classrooms organized.
The Tytler kids are especially excited, he said, to have grass and green space at their new school rather than an asphalt playground at Tytler, which was built in 1878. Laurine Avenue school was built in 1958 at about the same time as the surrounding neighbourhood, which is east of the downtown core and not far from John F. Ross Collegiate.
Like Tytler, it didn’t have many more than a hundred students when it ended its days as a school, going up to Grade 6. Laurine Avenue school’s single storey included only six regular classrooms and one kindergarten classroom.
John Galt school, with a capacity of about 420 students, has two storeys and 16 classrooms, including three built for full-day kindergarten classes. While Laurine Avenue was a JK-6 school, John Galt is JK-8. For its Grade 7 and 8 students, there’s a science and tech room, a music room, small lockers on the second floor, a full-size gym and lots of sports field space out back.
“There will be a strong instrumental and music program,” says Keesmaat, who was previously the vice-principal of a school in Arthur that included the two intermediate grades.
He’s looking forward to the challenge of being principal of a JK-8 school, where about 110 of the 360 students who start today (Sept. 3) are in grades 7 or 8. “I have a great intermediate staff to draw on their expertise,” he notes.
John Galt school was built using the same conceptual architectural plan used by the Upper Grand District School Board when it rebuilt John McCrae school a few years back.
Keesmaat especially likes the school’s “amazing” library, which has high banks of windows on two of its sides that let in an abundance of natural light, reflecting a current trend in school construction.
The big, bright room is more than a library, but also “a learning commons,” he says. More than a place where students come to get books, it’s a place where classes can come to do research or collaborative work. “So it’s not just the books and videos on the shelves. It’s more of a classroom,” he says.
A striking outdoor feature near the front of the new school is a wood pergola.
“I think the concept is that it would be a nice place for parents to meet, and for it to be an outdoor classroom,” says Keesmaat. He is starting his sixth year as a principal and will be in charge of about 35 teachers and other employees at the new school.
The John Galt school community also has its eye on the 3.9-acre site’s green space, he says. A greening committee has been set up, and “there is fantastic enthusiasm in terms of how do we develop that green space and make it more student-friendly and extend learning outside the classroom.”
By Doug Hallett